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Big Local Gains for States with Wildlife Refuge Recreation

big local gains for states with big game elk

Western Values Project released a new report, Recreation Spending & BLM Sagebrush Lands, highlighting the important economic effects associated with local recreation-related spending. Visits to BLM-managed lands in 11 western states resulted in an economic output of over $1 billion in 2013 alone.

The report by Eugene, Oregon firm ECONorthwest, was prepared for Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. public lands project, along with Western Values Project. Western Values Project is a nonprofit group advocating for a balance between energy development and conservation.

Local Spenders Generate $1.06 Billion

Hunting, camping, fishing and other recreational activities across more than 61 million acres of sagebrush directly brought in more than $623 million in local purchases within 50 miles of BLM property. The net result of analysis on local spending concluded that a total economic output of $1.06 billion was achieved, taking into consideration induced and indirect investments.

According to the report, the big winners in the local spending sprees included $172 million in Idaho, $152 million in Montana, $119 million in Nevada, $108 million in Wyoming, and $103 million in Oregon.

The Historic Popularity of Wildlife Recreation

According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), hunters have depended upon local animal species in western Wyoming as a means of survival, commercial interest, or sport since the 1800’s. Renowned for its healthy and abundant animal population, western Wyoming is popular with game bird species like blue, spotted, and ruffed grouse. Big game species commonly found in the state include mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat.

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67.8 Million Visitor (Local Shopping) Days

Using BLM’s 2013 visitation data for areas with at least 10 percent sagebrush cover, ECONorthwest calculated visitor spending averages with a formula used last year for national forests by the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station.

ECONorthwest estimated that the bureau’s sagebrush lands saw an estimated 67.8 million visitor days. These included 27 million for camping and picnicking, 7.9 million for off-highway travel, 7.1 million for non-motorized travel, 5.7 million for hunting, 4.4 million for special events and activities, and 4 million for viewing public land resources.

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Everyone’s Looking at the Greater Sage-Grouse

The sage brush is important, not just for recreational wildlife viewing, but also for hunters of big game species like elk, antelope, and deer. It is also home to the greater sage-grouse, a beautiful little bird receiving a lot of attention in the media lately.

Considering listing the greater sage-grouse as a threatened or endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is studying alternative protective measures. Critics fear officially listing the bird as threatened or endangered could have a negative impact on local economies. They are concerned about resulting restrictions on oil and gas exploration and livestock grazing on public lands.

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U.S. Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposed last spring to cancel all sage grouse hunting in Montana this past season, but back-pedaled under stakeholder pressure, modifying its plan by only shortening the season.

Nevertheless, the pressure to protect both sage-grouse and the sagebrush is strong. Conservation activists are being joined by farmers, ranchers, sportsmen, and local elected officials to improve sage-grouse habitat protection. The sportsmen group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers recently released a report urging sage-grouse conservation for hunters.

Stimulating Local Economies Through Wildlife Recreation

This past week, and continuing into the weekend, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hosting National Wildlife Refuge Week (October 12-18, 2014). In appreciation of all that local spending, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell extends a cordial invitation to all, saying “National Wildlife Refuge Week is a perfect time to discover everything that refuges have to offer.” She adds, “National wildlife refuges include some of America’s most treasured places, from the coastal islands of Maine to the deserts of the Southwest to Alaskan mountain ranges.”

Not merely for stimulating local economies, national wildlife refuges enrich our natural environment in many ways. They conserve wildlife, protect against erosion and flooding, capture and store carbon, and purify our air and water. They also teach our children about nature, and offer protected places for citizens to enjoy the great outdoors. Refuges offer world-class recreation, from fishing, hunting, wildlife observation and photography, and over 2,500 miles of land and water trails to explore.

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“This Precious Legacy Can’t be Taken for Granted”

The National Wildlife Refuge System turned 111 years old this year. It encompasses more than 150 million acres in 562 refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Every state has at least one wildlife refuge within the national habitat conservation network. With a refuge within an hour’s drive of most major cities, most of us can easily find a local place to celebrate (spend!) this weekend.

“Americans cherish their natural heritage,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Since President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on Pelican Island, Florida, in 1903, we’ve learned that this precious legacy can’t be taken for granted. I hope that citizens across the country will use this occasion to visit to a wildlife refuge, enjoy the festivities and learn more about conservation.”

National Wildlife Refuge Week Highlights

Check the special events calendar for Refuge Week events. Here are a few upcoming events for a small taste of what’s being offered:

Saturday, October 18
Wildlife Festival, Patuxent Research Refuge, MD
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
National Wildlife Visitor Center. Free. Enjoy live animals, children’s crafts, tram tours, scientific demonstrations and behind-the-scenes research tours of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center located on the refuge. See where endangered whooping cranes and sea ducks are raised and studied.

Bertrand Museum Collection Special Talks/Tours
DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, IA
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Special museum events coincide with Refuge Week, Iowa Archeology Month and International Archaeology Day. The collection consists of artifacts from the 19th-century steamship Bertrand, which sank in the Missouri River en route to the silver mines of Montana. The day’s program is one of several planned to mark the 150th anniversary of the Bertrand sinking on April 1, 1865.

Saturday, October 25
River Paddle Ride, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge
8 a.m. to 12 p.m. (noon)
Enjoy a guided paddle ride down the Mingo River. Some canoes and kayaks will be available for use. Participants are also welcome to bring their own canoe or kayak. Pre-registration is required: 573-222-3589, peter_rea@fws.gov

Ding Darling Days J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, FL
Sunday, October 19 – Saturday, October 25
A week-long celebration in honor of National Wildlife Refuge Week features live animals, tram tours, sea life cruises, kayak tours, nature talks and more.

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(image credits: blm.gov)
 
(Originally appeared on InspiredEconomist.com)

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